As you will remember from the previous chapters of this blog series (*cough* *cough*), I’m cooking my may through the Bistro Cooking book. So for dinner tonight I’m starting off with:
So here’s the ingredients: It’s really super-simple, once again: Basically just garlic, anchovies and bread. (And vinegar and parsley.)
So first you’re supposed to toast the crusty baguette, and the phrase above stopped me in my tracks. “Set aside; leave on the broiler.” LEAVE WHAT ON THE BROILER? The bread? How do I leave the bread on the broiler? Won’t it get over-broiled?
And after like five hours it dawned on me that she meant “leave the broiler on”.
OK, that mystery out of the way, there’s chopping…
Putting the anchovies into some water for ten minutes for reasons not explained. (As somebody who doesn’t know what he’s doing at all, it would be really nice if recipes mentioned what they were trying to achieve with certain steps, but I guess there’s space limitations.)
This is to make the anchovies less salt, perhaps? Or less oily? In any case, I don’t think this achieved any of those things, because it tasted as salt before I put it into the bowl of water as before. I mean, they’re oil covered.
And then everything is chopped and mixed together…
And that’s the result!
It’s… really… flavour forward? I mean, it’s basically raw garlic and anchovy bits on toast. If you don’t like raw garlic or anchovies, it’s really going to suck. I love garlic and I like anchovies, but even for me, this was a bit of a shock, because… it’s just that?
I don’t think many people would find this pleasurable, and it didn’t pair with the book (about which look further down).
But for the mains I’m doing the first soup in the book:
Soup time! I love onion soup, despite there being cheese involved. But at least this cheese is going to get fried, so it’s less disgusting.
But to make the soup, I have to make chicken stock, which is something I’ve never done in my entire life.
It’s these veggies…
… and then plonk into a pot with the chicken carcass.
After boiling (I mean simmering) for a while it looks a whole less perky.
And then you separate the solids from the fluids and then let it refrigerate. Meanwhile, I’ll start reading a book!
The next book on the shelf (which I therefore have to read while eating the soup) is Normal People by Sally Rooney. I don’t quite know how I ended up buying this? I must have read somebody mentioning this as something particularly good?
In the months since I bought it, I’ve noticed that it’s popped up several times as a subject on a bunch of web sites, so it seems like it’s become a Big Deal. I’ve avoided reading all those articles, so I have no idea why.
So let’s read the first three pages together:
Well, that’s interesting. I like the way it’s initially rather befuddling, with the author (presumably) playing up the confusion factor by withholding information about what these characters’ relationships are, thwarting the reader’s expectations and making you take stock of what you’re reading. The conventions she uses for dialogues also contributes to the effect.
It’s a very interesting technique.
So it works on a sentence by sentence basis, but the plot and characters bore me silly: To be moronically mean, it’s about a nerd getting sexually involved with a jock The huge twist is that the nerd is an upper class girl who’s all kinds of fucked up (I mean, she’s upper class and all) and the jock is a very sensitive working class guy. But apart from that, we’ve all read this story 10x too many times, and it was pretty boring even the first time around.
Perhaps this mundane over-done subject matter is why it’s getting so much recognition? YA tropes dressed in an adulting literary style?
And just like YA books, there’s plenty of fan service: These paragraphs about how reading books is like great and deep and fantastic are catnip to readers. They tell us that we, the readers, are wonderful, special people. *puke*
This novel takes place like five years ago, and some of the references Rooney makes to even the most trivial stuff is incomprehensible to me. All the guys (in Dublin) wear “plum-coloured chinos”?
These are what these students are wearing? In Dublin? Without getting beat up? Are you sure, Rooney?
Did you mean “khaki”? I mean, I guess some plums are khaki coloured? Or rather, plums exist with all colours in the world, so “plum-coloured” means nothing. “Plum” is a specific colour, but “plum-coloured”?
YES THIS ANNOYS ME.
Rooney’s description of the environs are often on this hand-wavey non-specific level.
OK, back to the soup. It’s basically just the stock, wine and onions.
Shake baby shake. That’s a lot of… collagen?
Half of the wine for the stock, half of the wine for the cook.
So after simmering for 45 minutes, the onions are all tasty and winey and I’m less whiney.
It’s kinda good…
But there’s like no seasoning I mean salt in there. I mean, look at that recipe again:
There’s no salt in it! Or like anything! It specifically says “unsalted chicken stock”. Is that a code word for “quite salty chicken stock”? I mean, it’s possible. Most stock is like 95% salt, so perhaps “unsalted” means “less than 2%”? I don’t know, but this seriously needed more salt.
And perhaps like some spices. Mmm… spices…
The cheesy bits were tasty, though, and… I mean, it’s OK, but it’s not the best onion soup I’ve tasted in my life.
So it’s a pretty good pairing for the book:
The plot feels awfully contrived, what with the sensitive jock getting depressed in the third act so that you can bring everything together nicely.
Of course, we (the dear readers) are much smarter than these literary people in college.
I guess what I find most grating in this maddening book is the way that the characters have these deep reflections upon themselves and their surrounds that sound nothing like what anybody has ever thought ever about anything, but are just like what an author ruminating wildly would type automatically.
OK, I think I’ve typed enough about this book, right? At this point it’s probably not entertaining to anybody, not even myself. But in summary: I think she writes well on the micro level, but it’s a pretty… annoying… book on a macro level.
But let’s take a look at a couple of reviews that I can finally read, like… say… this one.
All of this intellectual sauce has been ladled so thickly over the novel that it’s difficult to make out the shape of its much less grandiose origin, the thing the novel has always done and does better than any other medium on Earth: tell a story about how people decide whom to love and what they do about it. The eternal appeal of this foundation explains why Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë are as much a pleasure to read now as they were 150 years ago.
And let me just snip a thing totally out of context from this review:
As clichéd as it is, Rooney’s work strikes me as relatable: Anyone who has ever tried to define love or purpose will find their food for thought here.
Right. It’s relatable. That’s what people want, I guess?
This blog post is part of the Bistro Cooking & Books series.